WASHINGTON (AFP) — Police on Thursday sought to uncover what led a gunman to burst into the headquarters of the Arkansas Democratic Party and kill the chairman, a top ally of Bill and Hillary Clinton, US media said.
Bill Gwatney, 48, was shot multiple times in the upper body and died shortly afterward at the hospital, police said.
His assailant, 50-year-old Tim Johnson, was fatally shot after a police chase into a neighboring county.
He had no criminal record and had reportedly been fired earlier that morning from his job at a Target store, but it was unclear if or how he knew Gwatney, according to local news reports.
Police were called to a Target store in Conway, about 25 miles north of Little Rock, early Wednesday after coworkers complained about an agitated employee who had been fired for writing graffiti on a wall, the Arkansas News said.
The employee, Johnson, was "very agitated and shaking, and they feared for their safety," said Conway police spokeswoman Sharen Carter, who added that Johnson had departed by the time police arrived.
Several hours later, just before noon, Johnson walked in the state Democratic Party headquarters and asked for Gwatney.
A volunteer who was in the office at the time said Johnson had indicated he was "interested in volunteering, but that was obviously a lie."
Once Gwatney came out to meet him, "they introduced themselves, and at that time he (Johnson) pulled out a handgun and shot Chairman Gwatney several times. He then turned and left the business," said police lieutenant Terry Hastings.
The killing left fellow Democratic leaders in shock less than two weeks before the party's national convention in the midst of a fierce battle for the White House.
"We are deeply saddened by the news that Bill Gwatney has passed away," former president Clinton and his wife Hillary said in a joint statement. The couple lived for years in the Arkansas capital of Little Rock while Bill Clinton was governor and called Gwatney a close friend.
The Clintons said they were "stunned and shaken by today's shooting," describing Gwatney as their "cherished friend and confidante."
Gwatney was one of the party's nearly 800 so-called superdelegates, who are allowed to vote as they wish at the Democratic convention. During the nomination campaign Gwatney supported Clinton, who handily defeated Obama in the Arkansas primary.
Lieutenant Hastings said the motive for the shooting was unclear.
"That's something that we'll be looking into," he said, adding that the suspect was not a former Gwatney employee. Gwatney reportedly owned several car dealerships in the state.
The violent attack is the second in several months targeting the Democratic Party. In November a man claiming to be armed with a bomb took over US presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton's campaign office in the state of New Hampshire and held five people hostage for more than five hours before surrendering.
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